20th Century Theater, 3021 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH
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“Some might call me that,” muses Chris Smither, or one might simply say that the world is lucky because Smither’s songwriting and touring can stand the test of time. A songwriter, guitarist, bluesman, interpreter and performer for more than 50 years, Chris Smither has proven himself an American original.
Recorded at the gorgeous Blue Rock Studio in Texas’ hill country, just outside Austin in Wimberley, Smither’s 18th album, titled Call Me Lucky, due out March 2, 2018 on Signature Sounds/Mighty Albert, distributed by Redeye, is the artist’s first studio recording of brand new originals in six years. Once again Smither turned to his long-time producer and multi-instrumentalist David Goodrich, drummer Billy Conway (Morphine), Matt Lorenz (a.k.a. The Suitcase Junket), and engineer Keith Gary. The four musicians went into the session to record ten songs. What they ended up with is a double record: Disc 1 features the eight originals and two covers they started with; Disc 2 catapults the very same songs — with what life-long fans may know as the Smither sound — into another dimension, featuring very different arrangements.
Producer Goodrich recalls, “I’ve worked with Chris on a number of records over the past several years and I had a special feeling about this one going in. I didn’t send out any roughs or lyrics to the guys ahead of time. As I said, I had a feeling. We walked in to the studio on June 23 and it became evident these songs were the foundation of something bigger.”
Smither shook things up. During the making of the record each musician at some point wore a different hat. The engineer played piano. The drummer played guitar. Chris took a Chuck Berry standard and turned it on its head and it came out in a minor key. They added in another surprise cover (you’ll just have to listen to find out what it is). And to top it off, yes, Chris went electric.
At the core of Call Me Lucky are the ten songs, which offer commentary on the human condition that only Chris Smither can put pen to. These songs pull from deep in the soul, making for a kind of reflection, an introspection, that usually comes from someone only when facing a higher power or natural disaster. From the opening track of “Blame’s on Me” to “Lower the Humble,” Smither raises his own bar when it comes to songwriting. The rollicking “Nobody Home” offers a sharp observation of the 21st century, while “Change Your Mind” reaches back to Smither’s blues and folk roots as a young man.
As most Smither aficionados know, he recognizes great songs by other writers and always includes a couple of songs by other musicians. His deftness as an interpreter is often overlooked and yet his ability to choose a song and then make it his own is almost as important as his signature guitar styling and his command of the songwriting craft. Listen, you’ll hear for yourself. His aforementioned rendering of “Maybellene” is menacing.
Goodrich goes on to say, “There have been some out there — Bonnie Raitt, The Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, John Mayall, Diana Krall, among others — who not only know the strength of a Smither song, they get how coverable he is. Chris himself is the ultimate interpreter of others’ songs, and being the songwriter he is, we thought, ‘Let’s have Smither cover Smither. So one afternoon we let loose and had some fun. Chris dug in and gave these songs new identities. An interpretation. That’s how we ended up with the second disc.”
Disc 2 of Call Me Lucky transcends the core record and takes the listener on an unexpected sonic journey. And mixing it all up is that surprise cover.
And that is Call Me Lucky.
Fans from around the world continue to fill concert venue after concert venue eager for the galvanizing ride of a Chris Smither concert. Reviewers including those from The Associated Press, NPR, Mojo, and The New York Times agree that Smither remains a significant songwriter and an electrifying guitarist — an American original — as he draws deeply from folk and blues, modern poets and philosophers. And with Call Me Lucky he keeps doing just that.
For some, a record like Smither’s last release, the double-CD 50-year career retrospective Still on the Levee would have been a monumental way to wrap up a long and successful career, to hang it up and go out on a high note. Not Chris Smither. As he says, “This is what I do.” Eighteen records in, 83 songs over a lifetime, so far.
Call Me Lucky is proof Chris Smither has more to offer. And aren’t we lucky.
# # # HEAR NOW: NPR World Cafe premiered a video: http://n.pr/2D8kJgH